Tuesday, February 28

The Children's Hour

In 1933 the Oxford Union debated and passed the infamous motion that "This House will under no circumstances fight for King and Country." Jan Morris recounts in her delightful book "The Oxford Book of Oxford," that the next day's Times referred to this sorry result as "the children's hour."

I was reminded of this episode when I read about the students at the University of Washington who rejected the college's plan to erect a memorial to WWII flying ace and alumnus Col. Greg "Pappy" Boyington. Now no-one should admire Col. Boyington unreservedly; he was quarrelsome and boastful, but he was also one of the best dog-fighters in Marine Corps history, a Medal of Honor recipient, and an indisputable American hero. His colorful life, which was later the inspiration for the Robert Conrad television series Baa Baa Black Sheep, is summarized well here.

But the objections to recognizing Col. Boyington had nothing to do with his heavy drinking, his chronic indebtedness, his multiple divorces, or his embellishments of his war record. The following comments offered by UW student senate members opposing the memorial are taken from this official transcript of the debate preceding the 46-45-10 voted against the proposed memorial:

Jill Edwards questioned whether it was appropriate to honor a person who killed other people. She said she didn’t believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce.

Ashley Miller commented that many monuments at UW1 commemorate rich white men. [RP: Col. Boyington grew up poor and was part Sioux]

Karl Smith amended the first ‘whereas’ clause to strike the section “he was credited with destroying 26 enemy aircraft, tying the record for most aircraft destroyed by a pilot in American Uniform for which he was” and leaving the reference to the Navy Cross. Seconded. Objection. He said the resolution should commend Colonel Boyington’s service, not his killing of others.

Children at play, indeed. Churchill's response to the Oxford Union debate was:

We have all seen with a sense of nausea the abject, squalid, shameless avowal made in the Oxford Union. We are told that we ought not to treat it seriously. The Times talked of “the children’s hour.” I disagree. It is a very disquieting and disgusting symptom. One can almost feel the curl of contempt upon the lips of the manhood of Germany, Italy, and France when they read the message sent out by Oxford University in the name of Young England.

This quote amused me, because I found my lip curling involuntarily as I read the UW transcript. Six years later, when King and Country called, the Oxford students of 1933 took up arms and fought as bravely as their fathers had fought in WWI. I'm not as confident about the UW student senators, but here's hoping their patriotism and resolve will not have to be tested.

Monday, February 27

What do the following ex-NHL players have in common?

Jacques Richard (Nordiques)
Wayne Babych (Blues)
Gary Leeman (Maple Leafs)
Danny Grant (Red Wings)
Guy Chouinard (Flames)
Vic Hadfield (Rangers)
Rick Kehoe (Penguins)

Thanks to this article on SI.com, I now know that each of these players is a former 50-goal scorer. Live and learn.

Bush a radical conservative? I'm not so sure.

This extended piece on why President Bush is not nearly as right wing as he is commonly thought to be has been percolating for more than a year. I would find some morsel of relevant information, digest it, disgorge it onto the page (sorry for the graphic analogy, but after reading what I have to say I anticipate that many of you will agree with the comparison to expectoration) and then . . . nothing. I would forget about it until another such morsel crossed my plate. Eventually, enough time passed that what I had initially written was superseded by more recent events and I decided to shelve the project more or less permanently.

I recently found it, however, in an attachment to an email I'd sent to myself (I often do this to preserve documents when I move, as I have done so frequently in the last five years). It was (and still is) a very rough work in progress (progress might be generous), but I updated and burnished it a bit last night and here it is.

One further note: I use the term conservative in this post not as I would use it to describe myself or my idea of conservatism, but as it is generally used in popular American political discourse. One result of this usage is that much of what I say doesn't overlap neatly with the way I would describe or evalusate the substantive issues discussed. This post is not intended to be a defense of any of President Bush's policies, though I agree with many of them, or of his presidency, which only time will vindicate or condemn; it is merely a refutation of a common misconception on what I take to be its own terms. And with that said, on with the show.

"George Bush may well be the most conservative president in American history"
James Traube, New York Times.

"… the most conservative administration within living memory"
Ed Vulliamy, The Guardian (London).

“ … the most right-wing US president in living memory"
Peter Oborne, The Spectator.


It is easy to simply accept something said so often. But is it true? While almost every publication in North America, Europe, and the United Kingdom repeats this assertion like boilerplate on a gas bill, the facts are not so unequivocal. To the contrary, this has been a president who, while better than the alternatives in 2000 and 2004, has kept American conservatives on edge for five years with pronouncements like: “We have a responsibility that when somebody hurts, government has got to move.” I doubt that the platform of the Socialist Party USA goes that far!

The charges:

Unilateralism—President Bush is a cowboy, or so a favorite European criticism of him goes. Apparently, to European ears, “cowboy” is an insult, although quite which part of the cowboy’s character irks them is unclear: His strength? His self-reliance? His willingness to back up his moral code with action? Thankfully, most Americans still esteem the traits of the cowboy, but even some of his domestic critics parrot the European line that their president has left America riding alone on the range of international opinion. Hardly. As David Frum wrote in October 2004, “The ‘unilateralist’ Bush administration responded to 9/11 by requesting and winning UN resolution 1373, calling on all states to suppress terrorist financing. It requested and got a UN resolution before going into Afghanistan too … invoked NATO aid … sought Security Council approval before Iraq—twice (the first time successfully; the second time not) … [and] built a coalition that included Britain, Australia, Italy, Poland, Spain and others.” It was not America’s fault that France, Germany and Russia (three countries with traditions of unilateral warfare that should make them blush to criticize the United States’ multilateral coalition) had financial interests that were better protected by Saddam Hussein’s iron rule over his people and his country’s resources. It is easy to see why they would prefer President Bush to subordinate American foreign policy interests to the agendas of 190 other governments, most of them corrupt, tyrannical or both. Quite why so many domestic critics urge the same folly is not so clear.

The invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq were the product of more official international due process than American intervention in the Balkans under President Clinton. (By the way, what, exactly, were we doing there? Were we attacked? Was that an act of self-defense? Did we even seek, (I know we didn’t receive) UN approval?). United Nations resolutions, Nato approval, lengthy delays, consultations and build-ups, coalition building, working multilaterally on the North Korean nuclear threat, letting the European Union take the lead on the Iranian threat (with, to be generous, mixed results): if Bush really wants be seen as a cowboy—looking out for number one, damn the consequences—he is going to have to try much harder.

Evangelical Christianity—It is common knowledge among those who believe their knowledge exceeds that of the commoners, that George W. Bush is a religious zealot who has led a theocratic march through the Constitution to end the separation of church and state. Putting aside the far-from-settled constitutional limits on state support of religion, President Bush hardly stands out as unusually religious among American presidents. Judging him on his words and actions, he is less outwardly religious than Bill Clinton, whose ostentatious piety peaked with a bible-clutching photo op on his way to church during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, and much less so than Jimmy Carter, the most openly religious president of my lifetime.

Paul Kengor, author of “God and George Bush,” has reviewed the Presidential Documents, the official collection of every public presidential statement and found that President Clinton mentioned “Jesus,” “Jesus Christ” or “Christ” in 5.1 statements per year while President Bush only averaged 4.7 mentions per year through 2003. And these figures are somewhat skewed by the fact that in 2001, the year in which the World Trade Center was destroyed, Bush “mentioned Christ in seven statements.” In contrast, “in all of 2003, the Presidential Documents displayed only two statements in which Bush mentioned his Savior: the Easter and Christmas messages.” Professor Kengor also noted that President Clinton spoke in churches more than two and a half times more frequently than President Bush. (On this score, Hillary Clinton has outdone both Bush and her husband: as a senatorial candidate, she campaigned in no fewer than seven churches in seven hours on election day alone! And no-one should forget the repeated race-baiting in Southern black churches by divinity school drop-out Al Gore on his way to losing the 2000 presidential election.)

President Bush is a born-again Christian who does not hide the influence that Christ has had on his life. Before his mid-life conversion experience, he was an aimless, alcoholic, struggling businessman; after, he was elected Governor of Texas and then twice President of the United States. Reasonable observers will concede that he has much to thank his Christian faith for. “By the grace of God and your help, last year I was elected President.” It is easy to see why President Bush would say such a thing… only he didn’t. That was Bill Clinton addressing the Church of God in Christ, Memphis, in 1993. And Bush is considered the fire-breathing religious nut? Pardon me for thinking that there is a political double-standard operating here: Democrats can mount the pulpit and claim divine anointment or speak at torturous length about their faith, as the putative Roman Catholic John Kerry did in the third 2004 presidential debate, without fear of censure, but if even a whispered religious sentiment escapes Republican lips, it is denounced as a whirlwind of irrational, anti-Enlightenment demagoguery threatening the very foundations of modernism and progress.

Consider these concluding lines from a famous Presidential inaugural address:

“With a good conscience our only sure reward, with history the final judge of our deeds, let us go forth to lead the land we love, asking His blessing and His help, but knowing that here on earth God's work must truly be our own.” Though these words could equally sum up the current administration’s hope for its missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, George W. Bush would never get away with uttering them in an official capacity, as John F. Kennedy did in 1961.

Faith-based initiatives—A true fact divorced from its context can be as misleading as an outright lie, or as unhelpful as no information at all. The Associated Press headline “U.S. Gave $1B in Faith-Based Funds in 2003” probably confirmed the worst fears of opponents of President Bush’s much-misunderstood Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives who failed to read the article that followed. The reality is much less eye-catching.

First, many of the organizations described as “faith-based” do not consider themselves to be religious. According to the Associated Press, the reaction of the executive director of Crisis Ministries, a homeless shelter and soup kitchen in Charleston, S.C., to finding its name on the White House’s list of “faith-based” charities was that “someone has obviously designated us a faith-based organization, but we don't recognize ourselves as that.”

Second, many of the charities now designated as “faith-based” by the White House are long-time recipients of federal money. An analysis of the allocation of federal funds conducted by the Associated Press found that “[m]any are well-established, large social service providers that have received federal money for decades” and “[m]ore than 80 percent of recipients at HHS had received federal money before. At HUD, the figure was 93 percent.” Even more significantly, “[t]wo programs account for half of the $1.17 billion total: A HUD program known as Section 202 that builds housing for low-income poor people, and Head Start, a large preschool program for poor children.”

Third, the $1.17 billion awarded to “faith-based” charities was approximately 12% of the money “spent on social programs that qualify for faith-based grants in five federal departments” (namely, Health and Human Services, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Labor and Justice), again according to the Associated Press. This money was awarded through competitive bids to provide social services that are open equally to religious and non-religious organizations. This is the heart of the White House’s program—that a charity should not be penalized by exclusion from access to federal funds solely because it has, or has had, a related religious mission. President Bush was elected on a platform that emphasized his belief that excellence in the provision of services should be the sole criteria for receiving taxpayer money. That 12% of eligible funds were awarded to “faith-based” organizations ( and that figure uses a very loose definition of “faith-based,”) in a country in which more than 80% of the population believes in a personal God and more than 40% are what is loosely termed fundamentalist Christians, is hardly a shocking statistic. If it is shocking at all, it is shockingly low.

Finally, it must be asked, is this a conservative or a right-wing policy? Only to those for whom religion, and therefore religiously-motivated actions, is automatically suspect as the tool of a right-wing agenda. President Bush’s policy is non-partisan. If taxpayers’ money is to be allocated by the government, then it should go to the best organizations irrespective of their religious affiliation; otherwise the government should let the taxpayers keep their money and allocate it to the charities of their own choice. The president’s critics should put partisan politics aside for the sake of the goal that they should all share: opening the care and support of the less-well-off to as many willing and dedicated organizations as possible, not for the good of the right or the left but for the good of those who need their help. It would be a shame if any organization with a successful record of providing social services were excluded solely because of its religious mission. After all, those crazy religious types have a pretty good record in these things, as the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement showed.

Abortion—Yes, like roughly half of the American electorate, President Bush is anti-abortion. That fact alone makes him mainstream or, perhaps, center-right, but hardly a radical. The simple truth is that President Bush leads a country with one of the most permissive abortion laws in the Western World.

Based on his support for a ban on partial-birth abortion he is may be considered more anti-abortion than President Clinton, who vetoed a bill banning the practice that had been passed by large majorities in the House and the Senate. But his position does not make him any more conservative than roughly 70% of the American public who, according to an ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll, share his opposition to the practice.

In keeping with his anti-abortion position, Bush also issued an executive memorandum in March 2001 reinstating President Reagan’s “Mexico City Policy,” which prevents the use of American tax-dollars by international organizations that perform abortions or provide abortion services. Clinton had made the freeing of tax-dollars for abortions overseas one of his first executive acts; Bush’s order restored government policy as it was under George H.W. Bush and Reagan. This may have been a conservative act, but it was in support of a position no more conservative than that of the previous two Republican presidents.

Gay Marriage—To an observer in The Netherlands, President Bush’s opposition to expanding the definition of marriage beyond the union of one man and one woman might seem antediluvian. But then so would John Kerry’s and John Edwards’s positions and that of mainstream politicians across North America and Europe. Bush’s position is conservative in the sense that it seeks to “conserve” what was an unquestioned truth of western society long before the United States was founded. His defense of marriage, however, is no different than that of his predecessor in office. In fact, Bill Clinton supported and passed an act called, to avoid doubt, “The Defense of Marriage Act,” which says that “the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and leaves to each state to recognize or deny the marital status of persons of the same sex who have been recognized as married (or joined in a marriage-like relationship) by another state.

It was only after the constitutionality of Clinton’s law was challenged that the Republican party proposed a constitutional amendment to prevent the substance of the Defense of Marriage Act from being judicially disapproved. During the 2004 presidential election campaign, Bush supported a constitutional amendment while John Kerry opposed it, but their essential positions on gay marriage were indistinguishable: both opposed “gay marriage,” supported civil unions, and called for greater state control over the issue.

It might come as a surprise to the “Bushitler” crowd, but the most right-wing president in history has the same position on gay marriage as a leftist Senator from Massachusetts. It is worth stepping back and removing partisan blinkers for this point: no major presidential candidate has ever gone further on this issue—not even Al Gore, who described his position as being “for domestic partnerships having legal protections, but not the same sacrament, not the same name, because I favor protecting the institution of marriage as it has been understood between a man and a woman. But I think that a partner should have legal protection and contractual rights and health care and the rest.” In other words, for civil unions but against gay “marriage.” In other words, President Bush’s position—a position that would have been considered political suicide for any national politician a generation ago. The most conservative president ever? On this bellwether issue, President Bush is indisputably the least conservative president ever.

Stem cell research—It can’t be said enough: before Bush, embryonic stem cell research had never received a penny of federal funding. Since his election, a limited number of lines of embryonic stem cells (the 78 lines in existence in 2001) have been approved for federal funding. In 2003, research on these lines received $25m in federal money, in addition to the $191m that went to fund other stem cell research. And there are no limits on private research using any of the existing lines. Limitations on federal funding are not a “ban.” There is no real way to compare Bush's treatment of this novel issue to past administrations, but that treatement has been measured and cautious, as befits such a morally loaded subject. Such an approach may be conservative, but it is shared by many if not most politicians and by the American electorate.

AIDS/Africa—The Bush administration’s adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq have overshadowed its other major international projects. Possibly because of Iraq, the international community, including the United Nations, has been unenthusiastic—and in some cases hostile—to Bush’s African agenda. Unlike the case of Iraq, however, this agenda has occasioned little domestic criticism. Maybe it makes them uncomfortable that this allegedly parochial and mean-spirited Republican president has committed more support to Africa and to alleviating the suffering of AIDS victims than President Clinton ever did.

In the summer of 2003, while the country was caught up in the Iraq conflict, President Bush visited Africa to mark the passage by a Republican Congress of a $15 billion AIDS bill. Though his critics largely ignored this achievement, non-partisan African aid-workers recognized its significance. Melvin Foote, the executive director of Constituency for Africa called it “unparalleled,” while noting that “Clinton offered $300 million, parking-meter money, even though he knew it was a tremendous challenge.” Bob Geldof—the onetime Boomtown Rat and founder of Live Aid known popularly as “St. Bob” in Britain and his native Ireland—admitted much the same: “You’ll think I’m off my trolley when I say this, but the Bush administration is the most radical, in a positive sense, in the approach to Africa since Kennedy,” adding, for good measure, that in contrast to President Bush’s efforts, the European Union’s record on Africa has been “pathetic and appalling” and, colorfully, that “Clinton was a good guy, but he did f-ck all.” In case the contrast between Bush and Clinton wasn’t clear, Lord Alli, the aid worker, who accompanied St. Bob on a recent UNICEF trip to Ethiopia said that “Clinton talked the talk and did diddly squat, whereas Bush doesn’t talk but does deliver.” I’m not suggesting that Bush talk more about his generous African aid program, but it wouldn’t hurt his critics to listen a little closer.

In addition to the $15 billion AIDS commitment, the Bush administration has led the international criticism of the Sudanese massacre of 50,000 and displacement of up to 1.5 million people in the Darfur region of Sudan. Actually, that’s not entirely accurate—to lead, someone has to follow, and the United Nations is still dithering over the appropriate description of the Sudanese government’s actions. Such terminological exactitudes are important to the United Nations, because if what the Sudanese have done amounts to “genocide” then it is committed by its own laws to take real steps to prevent it. If, on the other hand, the Sudanese killing fields amount only to run-of-the-mill, third-world atrocities, then the United Nations can continue to debate and issue strongly worded condemnations from the safety of Turtle Bay.

If the United Nations falters, its failure should not taint the Bush administration. Then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, addressing the United States Senate Foreign Relations Committee in September 2004, said that the State Department “concluded that genocide has been committed in Darfur and that the government of Sudan and the Janjaweed [Sudanese Arab militia] bear responsibility and genocide may still be occurring.” This came after an April meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva at which, according to a New Yorker article from August 2004, “European diplomats opposed a strong American denunciation of the atrocities, preferring a resolution so watered down that Sudan welcomed it. At a time when America had given twenty-eight million dollars to the U.N.’s Darfur relief program, Germany had given one million dollars, and France nothing.” A similar accusation of stinginess made by aid agencies “including Oxfam, Care International and Save the Children” was reported in September by the BBC. According to the BBC, they “accused three nations of failing to give enough aid to Darfur. The agencies criticised Japan, France and Italy for giving only $6m, $9.6m and $10.8m respectively. … The US contributed $206m in 2004-5, and the UK gave $94m.”

Although it has pushed for peace between the North and South in the decades old Sudanese civil war, the United Nations security council has still pointedly refused to echo Colin Powell’s proclamation of genocide in Darfur or to consider anything but limited humanitarian relief—the same policy that worked so well for the United Nations in Rwanda … and so bloodily for the Rwandans.

Judges—Bush has appointed solidly conservative judges to the U.S. Courts of Appeals, but who expected him to do otherwise? His picks are no more conservative than Reagan’s were, so there is no support on this front for claims of ultra-conservatism. He has also appointed two justices to the Supreme Court, one with broad bi-partisan support and one on a party-line vote, with several Democrats defecting to support the nominee and only one Republican (who didn’t even vote for Bush in 2004) voting against him. Both justices may turn out to be conservative influences on the Court, but such predictions are notoriously speculative. Democrats warned that Souter would be a disaster for progressive causes, but they would now take nine Souters in a heartbeat. Most courtwatchers predict that Roberts will be slightly less conservative than his predecessor Rehnquist, and that Alito will be somewhere between Roberts and the conservative wing of Scalia and Thomas. No one can know for sure, but these picks are not evidence that Bush is more conservative than Reagan, who nominated Scalia and Bork, or even his father, who nominated Thomas.

Environment—Even half-hearted environmentalists have grounds for serious complaints against the current Bush administration, beginning with the plans to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska. In making these complaints, however, critics should be careful not to view the previous administration through green-tinted glasses. Upset at Bush for dismissing the Kyoto protocol? Under Clinton’s watch, the Senate approved an anti-Kyoto resolution 95-0 and that administration’s attitude towards the environmental lobby were subsequently summed up by Vice-President Gore, who lectured them “Losing on impracticable proposals that are completely out of tune with what is achievable does not necessarily advance your cause at all.” In eight years, the Clinton administration failed to enact a single law to reduce carbon emissions.

Clinton should be excused, however, as his record is no worse than most countries who signed the Kyoto protocol to great fanfare and then promptly ignored it domestically. Of the 161 countries that ratified the protocol, only 34 have promised to do anything to implement it, and, according to an article by Iain Murray, “of those 24 countries, the former Communist countries of the Eastern bloc have already achieved their targeted emissions reductions only by virtue of the collapse of their old, uneconomic smokestack industries. That mean that the only countries that have undertaken to take real, active measures to rein in their greenhouse-gas emissions are the EU-15, Canada, Japan, and New Zealand.” Fair enough, one might say, forget Africa, South America, and most of Asia—nobody really expected them to do anything about greenhouse gases—it is those last countries are America’s peer group, against which it should be measured. Well, the truth is their collective grade on emissions reductions is probably somewhere between an “F” and an “Incomplete-failing.” New Zealand, Canada, and Japan are seriously reconsidering their pledges as the estimated costs of compliance have ballooned, and “the European Environment Agency’s own figures demonstrate that the EU-15 are nowhere near their targets (despite them polling their individual commitments into a burden-sharing agreement that supposedly ensured poorer countries like Spain and Greece would not have to constrain their economies).” The conclusion: it is not likely that a single Kyoto signatory will actually meet its obligations. “It should therefore come as no surprise that, at the very first Meeting of the Parties . . . to the protocol in Montreal last year, the Parties voted to remove every binding element of Kyoto’s requirement for penalties for noncompliance.”

Given this record of hype without substance, America’s decision to opt out of a treaty that is designed to avert only 0.07 degrees Celsius of projected global warming by 2050 seems principled by comparison. Nor has America has not been idle on the global-warming front. According to Murray, “America has shown leadership on the global-warming issue by actually bringing India and China, together with Japan, Australia, and South Korea, into a Clean Development Partnership, which concentrates on sharing technology that will make energy production less emission-heavy.” America’s record is not impressive, but graded on the same curve as its equally recalcitrant peers, it looks pretty good.

A direct comparison with Clinton’s record is useful. 1996 article entitled “’The Greatest Environmental President.’ Really?”, co-authored by Nation columnist Alexander Cockburn damned the Clinton administration in these blunt terms:

“To cite Clinton as a committed environmentalist is, by any objective standard, a sick joke. … The 1993-94 Congress, with Democrats controlling both houses and the White House, produced fewer pro-environment laws than any Congress since Eisenhower’s time. … By the end of that congressional session, before the Gingrich take-over, the Clinton team had engineered the resumption of logging in ancient forests, sold out the Everglades and forced through the North American Free Trade Agreement, without doubt the most destructive environmental legislation since the Green Revolution began in the Nixon era.”

In his first term, President Bush rejected the Kyoto protocol, but he also proposed an alternative plan for reducing carbon admissions. It is a tepid compromise, opposed by environmentalists as a betrayal of the commitments to lowering absolute levels of carbon emissions that his father made at the Rio Earth Summit in 1992, but, if it were accepted, it alone would be more than Clinton ever achieved to reduce so-called ‘greenhouse gas’ emissions. And while Clinton signed the Kyoto protocol, as was the case with so many (probably most) of the signatories, he had no intention of actually putting it into effect. His administration never made a serious proposal to Congress to have the treaty ratified and, in 1998, his “green” vice-president Al Gore rebuffed environmental groups’ requests to mount a fight in Congress to reduce emissions from electric utilities, which account for approximately 40% of US greenhouse gas emissions. Union votes in Michigan and Pennsylvania were more important than serious environmental reform.

Politicians of all stripes echo the American people’s demand for “energy independence” and greater investment in domestic oil supplies and refineries, but the only solid proposal on either front has been Bush’s plan to produce oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge (ANWR), by drilling an area the size of Dulles Airport in a refuge the size of South Carolina (to use an analogy from Jonah Goldberg). This proposal has been roundly criticized by the environmental lobby, and by mainstream Democrats and some Republicans. The howls of protest can be heard as far away as the Persian Gulf, where the Emirs would no doubt have a good chuckle about it. The American people want more and cheaper oil, but they hate the oil companies who can produce it. Because of the gross caricature of companies like Halliburton that the left has propagated, any attempt by Bush to appease the cries for affordable fuel is immediately denounced as a “sop” to his “oil buddies.” On oil, Bush can’t win.

Some other Bush initiatives that have received little or no environmental support are described in this article from the Center for a Constructive Tomorrow:

It wasn't that long ago that many environmentalists were unqualified advocates of hydrogen fuel. Their support for the technology was well founded and based on the desire to both safeguard the environment and lessen our nation's dependence on foreign sources of energy. But that all changed when President Bush announced in his 2003 State of the Union his administration's commitment to fund hydrogen fuel cell research at the level of $1.2 billion. Suddenly it wasn't so "hip" to heartily support hydrogen fuel anymore, or at least not the President's plan for implementing it.

The Bush plan, said the Sierra Club's Daniel Becker, ‘serves as a shield’ to ‘protect automakers from improving fuel economy, a step that would reduce the nation's dependence on foreign energy faster than Bush's plan would.’ O.K., perhaps it might. But it's still a good proposal as far as it goes. One wonders if such nitpicking would have occurred under the previous administration which was more to the Sierra Club's liking.

Other Bush initiatives have also been given the cold shoulder. The Clear Skies Initiative is an extremely ambitious proposal to reduce the major air pollutants of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxide, and (for the first time) mercury by 70 percent over the next 15 years. Nevertheless, environmentalists such as Frank O'Donnell of Clean Air Trust still finds room to complain: ‘The reality is that what they are proposing will still allow industry to pollute too much for too long.’ This glum assessment of the President's initiative was also shared by Michael Shore, an air policy specialist at the advocacy group Environmental Defense, who similarly grumbled that the ‘reductions ought to be deeper than being proposed.’

The Healthy Forests Initiative to thin out and remove brush and limbs which can contribute to the spread of catastrophic wildfires was another ambitious legislative effort by the President. Even though this bill received overwhelming support from many Democrats, it was considered a ‘sellout’ to timber interests and opposed by most environmental groups. This hostility perplexed even liberal Senator Diane Feinstein who quipped ‘This legislation is not a logging bill, as some [environmentalists] would typify it - I think falsely. This legislation would provide the first statutory protection for old-growth stands and large trees ever in the history of this Nation.’

There are, of course, some other Bush initiatives that are also worthy of praise: The strategy to restore and create at least one million acres of wetlands, the Administration's effort to increase the number of bobwhite quail by 750,000 birds annually, and the more than $600 million that will be spent to recover Columbia River Salmon are just some that come to mind. But it's unlikely any environmental initiative by this President will be able to prevent noses from being turned upward. Even the Administration's willingness to increase funding to environmental groups from $72 million to over $143 million annually hasn't bought it any friends.

One suspects the angst against Bush has little to do with his policies and much to do with his conservative beliefs. In any event, the depths of these hard feelings seem to lack any common sense or reason, and appear to run deeper than the roots of any old-growth Sequoia.

Taxes—It is a truism of President Bush’s critics that his tax cuts were irresponsible and benefited only the rich. But those same tax cuts took millions of the poorest Americans off the tax rolls and lowered the lowest tax bracket to 10%. And top earners now pay greater share of total tax revenue.

Bush implemented a slight tax cut, but so have many countries in recent years, including Canada and Germany. On this issue, President Bush is actually in step with the worldwide trend. In addition to the European countries that have reduced taxes, some—particularly former Eastern Bloc countries—have actually implemented low flat taxes. Russia has a flat tax of 13%. Connoisseurs of historical irony should appreciate the fact that America’s erstwhile communist nemesis now has far less burdensome and socially intrusive income tax laws than America. To add insult to injury, Russian President Putin has slashed the corporate tax rate from 35% to 24% while American corporations are stuck with the second highest corporate tax rate in the industrialized world, trailing only Japan.

And Bush’s tax cuts are piddling in comparison to those implemented by Presidents Kennedy and Reagan. Granted, they started with much higher income tax brackets, but even after Bush’s tax cuts, the top bracket is higher than it was under Reagan. Not exactly the most conservative tax policy in recent memory.

Civil Rights—A regional politician and a foreign diplomat are kidnapped by a fringe terrorist group demanding the release of twenty-three “political prisoners,” $500,000 in gold, the dissemination of their manifesto and the publication of the names of police informants for terrorist activities. The leader of the country orders in the army: 7,500 troops and tanks patrol the streets of three cities. In an impromptu interview, the leader declares that “there are a lot of bleeding hearts around who just don’t like to see people with helmets and guns. All I can say is, go on and bleed.” He is asked how far he is willing to go to restore order. His grim response as he mounts the steps of the legislature: “Just watch me.” Two days later, martial law is declared and almost 500 people, including labor leaders, entertainers and writers, are rounded up and detained without notice or charge.

All this happened in Canada in 1970. During the so-called FLQ Crisis, leftist Canadian Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau suspended civil liberties and brought the weight of the nation’s army down on a small but murderous band of domestic terrorists. Although I am only half-hearted in my condemnation of this display of brute authoritarianism, the acts that provoked it were a trifle compared to the Oklahoma City bombing or the IRA campaign in London in the 1980s, let alone the attacks on the World Trade Centre. President Bush’s response to the far greater threat posed by radical Islamist terrorism has been … to legislate and to monitor conversations between foreign terrorists and some people located in the United States under an authority recognized by the FISA Court of Review and claimed by every president since Carter signed FISA but reserved the right to conduct national security surveillance.

Anti-Bush activists would like Americans to believe that they are living in a police state, but their claims are risible. Without any real impositions on civil liberties to point to, they resort to inflating minor changes to laws affecting anti-terrorism investigations that were, for the most part, passed during the Clinton administration.

These laws, including the much criticized Patriot Act, were bi-partisan congressional efforts, and authorize measures that are much less intrusive or expansive than those used by Lincoln, Wilson, Roosevelt, Kennedy, or Nixon.

But to hear the Hollywood left howl, you would think that they were living in Nazi Germany. Actually, some of them have said exactly that. That they have done so as multimillionaires speaking to an audience of millions on national television does not seem to strike them as in the least incongruous. Nor does it prevent many of them from flocking to support real tyrants, like Fidel Castro, the subject of an Oliver Stone hagiography and the honored host of Steven Spielberg, Jack Nicholson, Robert Redford and others. The true nature of free speech is obviously not something they completely understand; some of Castro’s political prisoners could probably enlighten them.

Meanwhile in the “civilized” West, citizens are required to carry identity papers (France, Belgium, Germany, Spain), political parties are banned (Belgium), criticism of religion is criminalized (England, France), possession of offensive historical artifacts is illegal (Germany), quoting the Bible in opposition to homosexuality is fined (Canada) and the European Union’s authoritarian and anti-democratic project rumbles on. Whatever one thinks of George W. Bush’s administration, America remains the freest country in the world, with greater freedom of speech, movement and religion than any other country in history.

The charges from the right:

Not to be outdone by criticism from the left, and somewhat undermining their concerns, American conservatives have been increasingly critical of Bush’s lack of conservative policies. In the middle of last year, there was a spate of articles in the conservative press asking if Bush could properly be called a conservative at all. Some of their grounds for complaint were:

Spending—Only four years after President Clinton declared that “the era of big government is over,” presidential candidate Bush ran on platform of increasing the size of federal government and increasing federal spending. The era of Democratic big government may have ended, but their discarded project of utopian centralization has been picked up by President Bush who, in his first term, failed to veto a single spending bill (or any bill of any kind, for that matter) and oversaw growth in federal spending of almost 20% in real dollars—higher than in any presidential term since the early 1970s.

Twenty years after conservatives almost succeeded in abolishing the federal Department of Education, which would have returned educational policy to the State and local level, Bush made increasing federal spending and intervention in education a priority of his presidential campaign. If only this had turned out to be another politician’s broken campaign promise! In his first three years in office, Bush increased federal spending on education by a belt-loosening 60.8%. A Bush-Cheney ’04 website even boasted about these “record levels of Federal spending now going to K-12 public education.”

And it’s not just for education that Bush has abandoned Reagan’s Republican legacy of trim, efficient government. According to the free-market think tank Cato Institute, federal spending has increased in almost every department, with the most eye-watering increases being for the State Department (32.5%), Veteran Affairs (29.4%), Defense (27.6%), the Interior (23.4%), Energy (22.4%) and Health and Human Services (21.4%). It is enough to make conservatives nostalgic for the days when Clinton promised (and largely succeeded in his promise) to “end welfare as we know it.” Of course, if Bush proposed such a plan, it would be “the most right-wing welfare policy in history.” Sigh. A conservative can dream.

On top of all this current spending, Bush found time to enact the largest federal entitlement program in a generation, one that was, for purposes of selling the plan, budgeted to cost $400 billion over its first ten years. Soon after it was enacted, the Congressional Budget Office estimated the potential cost at closer to $1 trillion and as much as $2 trillion, if Democratic bull-elephant Senator Ted Kennedy wins his fight to fill current gaps in coverage. This decisive left turn of the socialist ratchet alone should earn the president a place in the left-liberal pantheon. Instead, a president who has inflated public spending, locked taxpayers into a profligate new social entitlement, increased the number of people working for the federal government to a thirteen-year high, created a new cabinet-level Department of Homeland Security with 170,000 employees at a cost of $40 billion, and vowed to spare no expense to ensure that “every child [is] educated to his or her full potential” is caricatured as a right-wing radical.

Immigration-- Amnesty. You won’t hear that word from the White House, but Bush’s “guest worker” plan by any other name still smells as bitterly unconservative. Waiving the rules that are patiently followed by legal immigrants for millions of who are living here illegally is a pet project of the president, who made an amnesty one of his first post-re-election priorities, “a move” the Washington Times noted “bound to anger conservatives just days after they helped re-elect him.” Thank you very much, Mr. President.

Free trade--No act by this president has caused free-market conservatives as much embarrassment as the decision to levy import tariffs on steel. European trade ministers, who know a thing or two about protectionism, were spitting mad and most Republicans were speechless in defense. What could they say? Bush was, in principle, wrong. Wrong to repudiate the Republican preference for open markets and wrong to adopt the Democratic and trade unionist policy of economic insularity to appeal to voters in swing states. I say wrong “in principle,” but the illegal tariffs also seem to have failed as a political strategy. Despite selling-out his free-market principles, Bush still lost the steel-producing state of Pennsylvania in the 2004 election.

War--War is not of itself conservative. The Soviet Union used warfare and the threat of armed force to occupy and influence Eastern Europe and neighboring states, such as Afghanistan; armies of the left have left scars across the bodies of Africa, Asia and South and Central America; and totalitarian socialists came close to conquering Europe only two generations ago. In fact war, particularly revolutionary and pre-emptive war is a radical tool of social change antithetical to traditional conservative principles. It is not surprising that many public conservatives from across the range of conservative opinion either opposed the war in Iraq or have come to conclude that it was a mistake. These critics include Pat Buchanan, Tucker Carlson, and, most recently and most cautiously, William F. Buckley, Jr. Bellicosity knows no partisan banner.

Affirmative Action--To conservatives who consider affirmative action a disastrously wrongheaded policy, this administration's tepid and limited opposition to the University of Michigan admissions plans in the Supreme Court was disheartening and, to some, a betrayal of bedrock conservative principle.

On the filp side, it doesn’t seem to (and shouldn’t) matter to the president that he has appointed the most racially diverse team of senior advisors in American political history, but it is surprising that it also doesn’t seem to matter to the Left, whose habit it is to fetishize such superficially diversity. Maybe this is progress on their part.

Conclusion:

When the actual record is scrutinized, the white-washing of President Bush as a radical conservative can’t obscure the reality: despite the press’s univocal assertions to the contrary, on virtually every issue, the president is in step with a sizeable portion of the American electorate and no more conservative than most of the presidents that have preceded him. A commonly held misconception is not the same as the truth.

Monday, February 20

The Islamic Question - good and bad news.

One alarming and one hopeful article from the Sunday Telegraph (I'm a bit late on my weekend reading).

First the ">bad news: 40% of British Muslims favor introducing sharia law into some areas of Britain. And I thought that it was bad enough that Blair has consistently worked to undermine the centuries old protections of the common law--by trying to curtail the prohibition on double jeopardy and the right to trial by jury, and by importing foreign (literally) concepts of abstract rights into English law.

And now the good. Actually, you have to search pretty hard for any good news when a leading ex-Muslim (how rare is that?) predicts that "in a decade, you will see parts of English cities which are controlled by Muslim clerics and which follow, not the common law, but aspects of Muslim sharia law." The good news is the clear-eyed thinking and brave (the punishment for conversion from Islam is death under sharia law) speech of an astute British commentator who understands the problems that Islam, and the Blair government's ham-handed (probably not the most sensitive adverb) rapprochement with the most vocal and hard-line imams.

The entire article is worth reading, and I had a difficult time selecting the best excerpts, but here is a taste of Dr. Sookhdeo's stark warnings and advice:

The Government, and Tony Blair, the Prime Minister, are fundamentally deluded about the nature of Islam," he insists. . . .

The Prime Minister's ignorance of Islam, Dr Sookhdeo contends, is of a piece with his unsuccessful attempts to conciliate it. And it does indeed seem as if the Government's policy towards radical Islam is based on the hope that if it makes concessions to its leaders, they will reciprocate and relations between fundamentalist Muslims and Tony Blair's Government will then turn into something resembling an ecumenical prayer meeting.

Dr Sookhdeo nods in vigorous agreement with that. "Yes - and it is a very big mistake. Look at what happened in the 1990s. The security services knew about Abu Hamza and the preachers like him. They knew that London was becoming the centre for Islamic terrorists. The police knew. The Government knew. Yet nothing was done.

"The whole approach towards Muslim militants was based on appeasement. 7/7 proved that that approach does not work - yet it is still being followed. . . .

"The trouble is that Tony Blair and other ministers see Islam through the prism of their own secular outlook. They simply do not realise how seriously Muslims take their religion. Islamic clerics regard themselves as locked in mortal combat with secularism. . . .

'Islamic clerics do not believe in a society in which Islam is one religion among others in a society ruled by basically non-religious laws. They believe it must be the dominant religion - and it is their aim to achieve this.

"That is why they do not believe in integration. In 1980, the Islamic Council of Europe laid out their strategy for the future - and the fundamental rule was never dilute your presence. That is to say, do not integrate. "Rather, concentrate Muslim presence in a particular area until you are a majority in that area, so that the institutions of the local community come to reflect Islamic structures. The education system will be Islamic, the shops will serve only halal food, there will be no advertisements showing naked or semi-naked women, and so on."

That plan, says Dr Sookhdeo, is being followed in Britain. "That is why you are seeing areas which are now almost totally Muslim. The next step will be pushing the Government to recognise sharia law for Muslim communities - which will be backed up by the claim that it is "racist" or "Islamophobic" or "violating the rights of Muslims" to deny them sharia law.

". . . The Government has already started making concessions: it has changed the law so that there are sharia-compliant mortgages and sharia pensions.

"The more fundamentalist clerics think that it is only a matter of time before they will persuade the Government to concede on the issue of sharia law. Given the Government's record of capitulating, you can see why they believe that."


"You have to distinguish between ordinary Muslims and their self-appointed leaders," explains Dr Sookhdeo. . . .

"Take, for example, Tariq Ramadan, whom the Government has appointed as an adviser because ministers think he is a 'community leader'. Ramadan sounds, in public, very moderate. But in reality, he has some very extreme views. He attacks liberal Muslims as 'Muslims without Islam'. He is affiliated to the violent and uncompromising Muslim Brotherhood. . . .

. . . What should the Government be doing? "First, it should try to engage with the real Muslim majority, not with the self-appointed 'community leaders' who don't actually represent anyone . . .

"Second, the Government should say no to faith-based schools, because they are a block to integration. There should be no compromise over education, or over English as the language of education. The policy of political multiculturalism should be reversed. . . .

"Finally, the Government should make it absolutely clear: we welcome diversity, we welcome different religions - but all of them have to accept the secular basis of British law and society. That is a non-negotiable condition of being here.

It is hard to miss the similarity between Blair's courting of self-appointed "community leaders," whose gift for bombast and self-promotion usually exceeds their desire actually to improve the lot of their communities, and American politicians' (particularly Democrats') ritual kow-towing before the Brobdingnagian egos of Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson, and the NAACP leadership. In fact, the comparison is so obvious that I can't be bothered to write any more on the subject. It's all too depressing.

Sunday, February 19

Homage to Peter King

I'm going to steal the lazy habit of Peter King and offer "Ten Things I Think I Think" about the Winter Olympic Games. But I will spare you the paeans to my daughters' softball teams (not that I have daughters--fortunately for you) and those fascinating tidbits about the quirks of coffee-preparation at the Starbucks in the Green Bay aeroport. Peter King readers will know the bullet you've dodged there. However, in classic King-style, I feel some irrelevant digressions coming on.

Ten Things I Think I Think

1. I think that watching the Olympics in this country is unspeakably frustrating. Considering NBC paid the equivalent of Africa’s GDP for the rights to show these games, you would think that it would be easier to find out what events are on television and when. I am relatively tech savvy and familiar with how a television works, but I have to scramble to figure out what hockey game will be shown on which of the four channels, each with irregular coverage, and when.

2. I think that the insipid "Olympic Moments" are produced by the same folks who churn out monday night made-for-t.v. movies starring Meredith Baxter with titles like "She Cried Alone" and "A Mother's Justice." If you've ever lived in a co-ed dorm with a communal television, you know them well: they go head-to-head with Monday Night Football. The problem here is not the concept but the execution. I just finished watching a short profile on an American bobsled designer during the intermission of the U.S. – Sweden men’s hockey game. The story was inherently interesting—a NASCAR engineer with no knowledge of bobsledding is brought to Italy to redesign their sleds and revolutionizes the sport—but the man’s engaging down-home personality and the intricacies of bobsled design were suffocated by the melodramatic narration. A new height of preposterousness was reached with the following commentary: “He may not have known the first thing about bobsleds, but his task was clear . . . nothing less than to defy the laws of physics.” Yes. According to NBC, some redneck engineer has transcended Newton's laws of thermodynamics. Did they think to notify the Nobel committee? I look forward to their profile of U.S. ski-jumping coach Corby Fisher:

Coaches are not made, they are born. Corby Fisher's earliest memory is of positioning his baby sister on the roof of their suburban Vermont home and, with an encouraging whisper in her ear, launching her into the snow drifts below. His neighbors never understood this strange boy and his obsession with pushing smaller children off roofs and out of trees, but Fisher's parents never wavered in their belief and their support, or in their care for his sister's fractured arms and legs. Some day, they knew, the world would come to understand his gift, which was nothing less than the ability to teach people how to fly. Literally fly. Like a bird. Not jump. Fly! Seriously. Bear with us here. Some day the world would watch in awe as Corby Fisher's young proteges would slip the surly bonds of earth, and touch the face of God. Literally. THE God. . . .

2. I think it's inexcusable that NBC doesn't show every minute of the hockey games. I missed both Finnish goals against Canada because of commercial breaks. Either do what is done during the World Cup of soccer and continue to show the game in a corner of the screen during commercials, or pause the live action of the game during commercials (using a Tivo-type technology) and continue the game after them. The latter option would add, at most, half an hour to the broadcast and most of that time could be made up during the intermissions by eliminating the “Olympic moments” features or live interviews, which are just time-fillers anyways.

3. I think that U.S. goalie Rick DiPietro should have received a second penalty during the U.S. - Sweden game. DiPietro cleared the puck directly over the glass, which is a delay of game penalty. His first reaction was to motion to the referees that the puck had deflected off the glass and over (which would not be a penalty). Replays showed that this was a ridiculous claim—the puck soared several feet over the glass. Why shouldn’t DiPietro receive an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for his action? Trying to deliberately deceive the referees in this way is no different from diving. Which leads me to

4. . . . the problem of diving in the NHL. With the new zero-tolerance rules enforcement, the incentives to embellish contact are higher than ever and my unscientific observation is that diving is more common this season. It still isn’t even close to the problem that it is in soccer, but I hope that someone is keeping an eye on this. It would be a disaster if diving became as engrained in hockey as it is in soccer—to the point where players freely admit to it and the sport's governing bodies don't seem to care. I only assume they don't care because it would be very easy to purge soccer of diving if FIFA and national FAs were committed to doing so. It is far from an original or new idea, but I have no idea why these bodies don’t review all games for diving (they already review most games to evaluate referees, for highlights, and to adjudicate complaints from the teams). Each clear dive or embellishment should be punished by a game suspension, a three game suspension for a second offense, and a five game suspension for a third offense, etc. … You wouldn't catch all offenders, but punishing the worst offenders would at least send a message that diving and embellishing are cheating, and that cheating has no place in the game.

Unfortunately, the current attitude is that cheating is acceptable. What else explains Rivaldo’s open admission that his ludicrous acting job against Turkey in the 2002 World Cup was done to get the Turkish player Hakan Unsal sent off? or Maradona’s (eventual) admission that the “hand of God” was really the hand of an Argie cheat?

5. I think that the tacit acceptance of diving is part of a larger culture in soccer, which permits any player to argue a call with the referee, for whole teams to crowd around the referee, get in his face, and otherwise show their disagreement and disgust with his calls. Managers are fined for making disparaging comments about refereeing in post match interviews, but I’ve never heard of a player being fined or suspended for running up to a referee and protesting a call on the field, which amounts to the same thing—asserting that the referee has made a mistake. Unacceptable. There should be a rule limiting discussions with the referee to the team captain, as there is in hockey, or, preferably, a fine for questioning a call, as there is in cricket. Referees don’t change their calls based on player protests (and, if they do, that is another problem), so such insubordination has no legitimate purpose, but calls the integrity of the game into disrepute. If a schoolboy yelled at a referee during a game, or turned his back on him and ignored him while being booked, he would be instantly pulled from the game by his coach, if he wasn’t sent off first. Why do we hold grown men to a lower standard than children?

6. I think that the hollow medals at Turin are the worst since the crystal medals at Albertville. A medal should be a medal. Not a washer. It just looks cheap.

7. I think that they should get rid of medals altogether, and award the winner a laurel wreath, as in the old Olympics. I like the idea that such laurels would wither: sic transit gloria mundi and all that. And only recognizing the winner fits better with the goal of identifying the best, not the best three, in each sport. But, thank goodness, I have no say in these matters and my idiosyncratic opinions remain mine alone.

8. I think that I have been pleasantly surprised by the genuinely likeable personality of Shaun White. I didn't like what I'd seen of him or Bode Miller in the build-up to the games, but am pleased that my initial and superficial judgment of him (based mostly on his hair and his grin--you know, important things) has been proven wrong. Can't say the same about Mr. Miller yet.

9. I think that you should only be allowed to compete for a country for which you hold citizenship. Why should you be able to compete for a country just because your grandmother was born there? Why stop there? Why not any country any ancestor came from? Citizenship should mean something. Like, for example, you don't wear the flag of a foreign country and compete against your own country. Some sports seem particularly susceptible to this. Luge and bobsled, for example, are hardly known outside North America and parts of Europe. So you have "Greek" bobsledders from Chicago, "Armenian" bobsledders from San Jose and "Venezuelan" lugers from Boise. Not to mention the "Greek" softball team at the Athens games, who spoke with what sounded an awful lot like a Valley Girl twang. The rule should be: Not Canadian? Then you can't compete for Canada. Simple really.

10. a. I think that, despite the fact (actually because) the Summer Olympics are much higher profile than the Winter Olympics, the Winter games would be much more interesting to attend.

b. In fact, I think that if anyone wants to go in on a suite or a chalet in Whistler or Vancouver for 2010, they should let me know.

Tacky Anti-Doping Rules

This morning's Washington Post carried a thought-provoking article on performance-enhancement in sport by Slate's science and technology writer William Saletan. The general theme is the byzantine and often inexplicable rules that athletes have to consider when training and competing, but what distinguished it from other articles I have read were the specific examples provided.

The article explains that the World Anti-Doping Code "bans a substance or procedure if it meets any two of these criteria: 1) it endangers the athlete's health; 2) it 'enhances sport performance'; or 3) it 'violates the spirit of sport.'" That last category is the whatsit in the woodpile, particularly when it is invoked to condemn practices that enhance performance but do not endanger the athlete's health. Practices like using Human Growth Hormone, which, according to the article, has been vouched safe by "the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the American Association of Endocrinologists." Why, asks Saletan, should growth hormone be banned but not carbo-loading (eating lotsa potatoes, pasta, etc. before competition)? "Evidently growth hormone violates the spirit of sport, but stuffing yourself with steaks doesn't."

And, as Saleton wryly notes, "[t]hat's just the beginning of the confusion."

The "Prohibited List" tolerates performance-enhancing substances in your body if they are 'endogenous' rather that "exogenous." Endongenous, according to the Merriam-Webster Medical Dictionary, means "caused by factors within the body." Exogenous mean "not synthesized within the organism." That seems clear enough: You can use what's yours, not what's artificial. But four pages later, the list bans the use of "autologous" blood, which means "blood derived from the same individual." You can use what's yours, except when you can't.

The question of "what counts as artificial" is even more confusing:

Training at high altitude boosts your red blood-cell count; the code says that it would be absurd to ban this practice just because it enhances performance. Yet the International Olympic Committee bars athletes in Turin's Olympic Village from using hypobaric tents, which simulate high-altitude air, and WADA is debating whether to ban them worldwide. Athletes from flat countries say they need the tents to match the conditioning of athletes from mountainous countries. . . . [But WADA Chairman Richard] Pound rejects the tents as "artificial" and "tacky."

I hate to break family rank, Uncle Dick, but "tackiness" is not one of the three criteria for banning a practice; and if "artificiality" is a no-no, then why can athletes compete in wind and water resistant man-made materials? or receive funding to train full-time, year round? or take highly processed vitamin supplements not found in nature, at least not in handy pill form? None of these are "natural" conditions.

These are just a couple of the inconsistencies and confusions described in the article, which I recommend reading in full. I'm pretty fundamentalist when it comes to opposing doping in sport, but this article made me a little more aware of the controversies at the margins of "performance enhancement" and the near-impossibility of keeping the rules both up-to-date with changing technology and rooted in common sense.

Friday, February 17

From "a crisis of confidence" to "morning in America"

I stumbled across a great resource online today--one of those sites that makes the Internet so useful. It is a compilation of great American speeches of the 20th century, embedded within a larger site on rhetoric. Almost all of the speeches have audio or audio and video links, and all provide the full text.

I spent a couple of hours listening, and here are my quick thoughts on some of them:

1. Martin Luther King, Jr. "I have a dream" - what is there to say? If it doesn't bring a lump to your throat, you need help.

2. Edward Kennedy "Chappaquiddick" - a very short clip, but the text is very odd. Kennedy speaks in a strange New England argot (I assume, though it could be a Kennedy thing), saying things like "There is not truth, not truth whatever, to the widely circulated suspicions of immoral conduct that have been leveled at my behavior" and "I regard as indefensible the fact that I did not report the accident to the policy [police?] immediately." I am not inclined to view the good Senator favorably, but this sounds like the worst sort of self-serving cock-and-bull story. "I felt morally obligated to plead guilty to the charge of leaving the scene of an accident." How big of you, Mr. Senator.

3. President Carter "A crisis of confidence" - for someone too young to remember Carter's presidency, it gives taste of how ghastly he really was (and is) for America. I hate to think what would have happened if he had been elected for a second term. As a cultural artifact, the speech is also interesting for its take on the energy crisis, and the "solutions" proposed, which range from the naive ("We simply must have faith in each other") to the boneheaded ("import quotas," "windfall profit taxes," and "the most massive peacetime commitment of funds and resources in our nation’s history" to establish a federal energy corporation). It is depressing to see some of these failed ideas resurfacing again, and called for by Republicans, including President Bush, whose recent State of the Union address was, in parts, eerily similar Carter's speech.

Although Carter apparently intended the speech to offer solutions to America's "crisis of confidence," he can't escape the grips of his own obsession with that crisis. "It is a crisis of confidence. . . . It is a crisis that strikes at the very heart and soul and spirit of our national will. We can see this crisis in the growing doubt about the meaning of our own lives and in the loss of a unity of purpose for our nation. . . . The erosion of our confidence in the future is threatening to destroy the social and the political fabric of America.The symptoms of this crisis of the American spirit are all around us. . . . This is not a message of happiness or reassurance, but it is the truth and it is a warning. . . . These wounds are still very deep. They have never been healed. . . . Often you see paralysis and stagnation and drift. You don’t like it, and neither do I. What can we do? . . ."

So, when he says "We know the strength of America. We are strong. We can regain our unity. We can regain our confidence," it rings hollow. He's still Richard II imposing his neuroses on his nervous courtiers, droning "Of comfort no man speak: / Let's talk of graves, of worms, and epitaphs; / . . . / For God's sake, let us sit upon the ground / And tell sad stories of the death of kings."

It is amazing to read Carter's speech and to think that, just a year later, Reagan would receive 8 million more votes than Carter and double the number of electoral votes. And five years later, it would be "morning in America." Carter offered navel-gazing, higher gas prices, and massive government programs (from a federal government that Carter had just admitted was "isolated from the mainstream of our nation’s life" and not deserving of public confidence); Reagan offered tax cuts, paring back the federal government, and stiffening the national spine against world communism. I'm not sure whether this shows how one person can so badly misjudge the national sentiment or how one person's leadership and vision can change the national mood. Or neither. Those are lessons for a modern Thucydides to draw.

Carter does say some useful things, particularly that:

In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities, and our faith in God, too many of us now tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns. But we’ve discovered that owning things and consuming things does not satisfy our longing for meaning. We’ve learned that piling up material goods cannot fill the emptiness of lives which have no confidence or purpose.

But his tone is all wrong. You can't imagine Carter leading you into battle and you can't trust him to knock sense into a spoiled and stagnant nation.

I did learn, however, that "I feel you pain" didn't originate with Clinton. Carter's second sentence reads: "I promised you a President who is not isolated from the people, who feels your pain, and who shares your dreams, and who draws his strength and his wisdom from you." In other words, you knew what you were getting: a ditherer and a worrier, not an inspirational leader. Fortunately, the American people had had quite enough by 1980.

For a taste of what Reagan was offering as far back as 1964, you can watch his . . .

4. "A time for choosing" speech in support of Goldwater's doomed campaign. While he says some questionable things, and I have no idea whether his numbers and examples are accurate, his general observations about government farm programs, the role of the federal government, urban development, the United Nations, foreign aid, and, above all, those who advocated appeasement of the Soviet Empire, are impressive. And his comments on social security would be downright radical today.

Most of all, the tone could not be more different from Carter's. Both speeches lament current problems and purport to offer solutions. But there the similarities end. One offers a fuzzy hope that a moribund populace may be dragged out of its funk by feeding an already obese federal government, while the other offers confident plans consistent with American traditions of self-reliance, liberty and "what we know in our hearts is morally right."

And here is Reagan's Cold War plan already fully formed sixteen years before it would be implemented:

There's no argument over the choice between peace and war, but there's only one guaranteed way you can have peace -- and you can have it in the next second -- surrender.

Admittedly, there's a risk in any course we follow other than this, but every lesson of history tells us that the greater risk lies in appeasement, and this is the specter our well-meaning liberal friends refuse to face -- that their policy of accommodation is appeasement, and it gives no choice between peace and war, only between fight or surrender. If we continue to accommodate, continue to back and retreat, eventually we have to face the final demand -- the ultimatum. And what then -- when Nikita Khrushchev has told his people he knows what our answer will be? He has told them that we're retreating under the pressure of the Cold War, and someday when the time comes to deliver the final ultimatum, our surrender will be voluntary, because by that time we will have been weakened from within spiritually, morally, and economically. He believes this because from our side he's heard voices pleading for "peace at any price" or "better Red than dead," or as one commentator put it, he'd rather "live on his knees than die on his feet." And therein lies the road to war, because those voices don't speak for the rest of us.

You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing in life is worth dying for, when did this begin -- just in the face of this enemy? Or should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots at Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard 'round the world? The martyrs of history were not fools, and our honored dead who gave their lives to stop the advance of the Nazis didn't die in vain. Where, then, is the road to peace? Well it's a simple answer after all.

You and I have the courage to say to our enemies, "There is a price we will not pay." "There is a point beyond which they must not advance."

Truly, a site worth exploring at your leisure.

Oh the possibilities . . .

Here is a fascinating story about psychological operations in the U.S. military. It offers some intriguing scenarios and is sure to be like fresh manure for old conspiracy theories. I'm afraid to even begin to indulge in flighty speculation, because I know how easy it is to unmoor myself from the restrictions of evidence, logic, and proof.

Monday, February 13

Freedom of expression, Kofi-style

I'm not counting this post as a "Danish Cartoon" post, but as a "the sooner Kofi Annan retires to a life of lucrative directorships the better" post.

According to the Sydney Morning Herald, Annan (1) criticized the republication of the cartoons (which he is free to do in private--I'm not too keen on it myself--but not as a public figure), (2) sees "no evidence" that Iran or Syria have tried to inflame the situation--five months after the cartoons were published, (3) and supports 57 Islamic nations' attempt "to insert anti-defamation language into an already controversial founding document for a new UN human rights council to replace the discredited Geneva-based UN Human Rights Commission."

The proposed language says that "defamation of religions and prophets is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression." Because, of course, Iran and Syria have particular expertise with the right to freedom of expression.

The sooner Annan is gone, and the sooner civilized nations realize that the U.N. is institutionally incapable of effecting "human rights" reforms, the better.

English Cut

Sometimes I find something that is almost too good to share--a perfect but tiny restaurant; a competent computer help-desk operator; a great price on a favorite wine at a local shop. The selfish instinct to keep good service private or to preserve an unspoiled haven is strong.

So it has been with my new tailor. I am breaking my silence, however, because not only is his service and product so good, but he also maintains a 'blog which is as good as any I've seen at providing fascinating and enlightening insights into a very private and insular world: that of the Savile Row tailor.

The 'blog is called English Cut (as is the company) and I recommend starting with his "Top Ten" posts. "How to Spot a Drunken Tailor" is a particularly good place to begin if you want to dive into this proud and tradition-bound world. I've spent more than a little time hanging about in the pubs of Mayfair and St. James, including in and around Savile Row and Jermyn Street, so perhaps I'm overly nostalgic, but this is good stuff.

Incidentally, Thomas Mahon will be in New York this March, if anyone is interested in making an appointment. I will be up for a second fitting.

And I thought Congress had corruption problems

An interesting article in the Times today about Congolese President Denis Sassou-Nguesso, who is head of the African Union, which is currently negotiating debt-relief with the World Bank and IMF.

Sassou-Nguesso was in New York the other day to give a 15-minute speech to the U.N. General Assembly. His stay lasted eight days, during which time his fifty-person entourage occupied twenty-five rooms at the Palace hotel and racked up almost $300,000 in charges.

According to the article:

Details of the president’s extravagance have outraged Congo-Brazzaville’s creditors and raised new questions about the credibility of the country’s claim to qualify for debt relief under an agreement brokered by Tony Blair at last year’s G8 summit at Gleneagles.

I'd say.

World Bank sources said Wolfowitz was perturbed by the Congo-Brazzaville case, but he is under pressure from the French to approve a debt relief package.

Sunday, February 12

Wanted: A sense of proportion

Michael Farber thinks that the Tocchet betting scandal is "the biggest crisis of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's tenure." Does Mr. Farber not remember last season? It's easy to forget, because it didn't happen, but that alone makes it a bigger crisis than a federal investigation into what appears to be a small gambling ring headed by an assistant coach that most American sports fans couldn't identify.

No suspicion has been cast on any active players or any ex-players who are household names in the United States. Do you think that Bud Selig would trade baseball's steroid problem (which is only going to get worse with the Hall of Fame eligibility of McGwire, and which isn't going away until at least Sosa and Bonds are elected or rejected by the Hall) for this "crisis"?

Unless there is an explosive revelation, this story will fizzle inside a month. It doesn't implicate current players and doesn't have anything to do with the game of hockey itself. Most importantly, the integrity of the sport is not compromised by any of the allegations. And this is one case of hockey's lack of a major network deal helping its image. Out of sight, out of mind. SportsCenter will soon move on to more important American sports stories, like the NFL combine and Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s plan for turning around his racing fortunes, and the "Betzky" scandal will be relegated to minor updates if and when someone pleads guilty or goes to trial.

Now compare that to the loss of an entire season of a major professional sport, Mr. Farber.

The Red Flag

Because this week promises to be very busy, with a draft of a complicated brief to write and St. Valentine's Day obligations to fulfil, I am going to cheat and post some pieces I wrote over the last few years, while this site was dormant. Because of their age, these posts contain some anachronisms, which I have left unaltered.

The first was written on the occasion of the 2003 Labour Party Conference:

The people’s flag is deepest red/ It shrouded oft our martyred dead.” Not lyrics you would expect to hear at a mainstream political rally this side of 1970, or possibly Marin County, but this revolutionary call to arms will resound once more this week at the British Labour Party’s annual conference in Bournemouth. Long banished to the conference fringes, like a dipsomaniac uncle tasked with running “important” errands during the family reunion, the unrepentant Left wing of the party is itching to crash the main bash this year. They might be forgiven for thinking that the revival of the traditional party anthem, “The Red Flag,” heralds the end of their exile but, unfortunately for them and fortunately for their party, they would be wrong.

Under the leadership of Tony Blair, Old Labour became the innocuous, voter-friendly New Labour party by repudiating militant unionism and running to the political center. During the 1990s, New Labour undermined a lazy Conservative government by clearing out the musty fug of anti-capitalist rhetoric and opening its doors to a socially conscious but personally and professionally ambitious middle-class. Red banners onstage at party conferences were quietly replaced with neutral earthtones, calls for higher taxes and social levelling were replaced with policies promoting decentralized government and fiscal responsibility cribbed from the Conservative party handbook and “The Red Flag,” the nostalgic hymn to universal labour solidarity that had been the party’s anthem for seventy-five years, was quietly dropped from the party’s playlist.

But many in old Labour never signed up to the modernizing project. With nowhere else to turn politically, the hard socialist Left could not abandon the party, so it waited—sometimes patiently, sometimes not—for the shine of New Labour’s novelty to dull. Now, on the eve of his party’s conference, Tony Blair’s reputation is duller than a Clinton autobiography and he can no longer afford to alienate any faction of his party, so the “The Red Flag” will fly once more. At least some party faithful believe this is a sign of their long-awaited reprieve. Quoted in the Daily Telegraph, a member of Labour’s national executive council reverted to the argot of the campus agitator to welcome the return of “The Red Flag,” crowing “we could certainly do with a bit of that comradeship again. Also, perhaps next year we could have the Internationale.” Heck, come to think of it, those Gulags were rather handy too. But old Labour should not get ahead of itself; “The Red Flag” may prove a red herring.

At this point, it is worth reproducing the full text of the song for Americans (and New Labourites) unfamiliar with its message:

[Sung to the tune of “O Tannenbaum”]

The peoples flag is deepest red,
It shrouded oft our martyred dead,
And ere their limbs grew stiff and cold,
Their hearts’ blood dyed its every fold.

Then raise the scarlet standard high,
Within its shade we’ll live and die,
Though cowards flinch and traitors sneer,
We’ll keep the red flag flying here.

Look round, the Frenchman loves its blaze,
The sturdy German chants its praise,
In Moscow’s vaults its hymns are sung,
Chicago swell the surging throng.

It waived above our infant might,
When all ahead seemed dark as night,
It witnessed many a deed and vow,
We must not change its colour now.

It well recalls the triumphs past,
It gives the hope of peace at last,
The banner bright, the symbol plain,
Of human right and human gain.

It suits today the weak and base,
Whose minds are fixed on pelf and place
To cringe before the rich man's frown,
And haul the sacred emblem down.

With heads uncovered swear we all
To bear it onward till we fall;
Come dungeons dark or gallows grim,
This song shall be our parting hymn.

As a counterpane of clumsy doggerel and blood-soaked idealism, this ditty would have been a worthy fight song for Leningrad U (motto: “Re-education Is for Everyone”), but what should we make of its reappearance in Britain today? Not too much. If it means more than the retro-commie kitsch that adorns the dorms of upper-middle class students, it certainly portends less than its literal call for world revolution.

No rendition of “The Red Flag” can ignore the lessons of a century in which rule according the cause it espouses led inexorably to repression, poverty and human degradation, so in order to sing it without irony a new generation will have to find new echoes in the old lyrics. This should not be difficult and a parallel can be drawn from another locus of socialist revival in Britain: the Stop the War Coalition.

Groups such as Workers Power, The Communist Party of Britain (not to be confused with the Communist Party of Great Britain, also an affiliate of the Stop the War Coalition) and the Revolutionary Marxist Group (for a full list of coalition affiliates, see www.stopwar.org.uk/groups.asp) have recently been enjoying a popularity undreamed of since the heady days of 1917. By taking the lead in the Stop the War movement, groups who a year ago were little more than flotsam and jetsam in an ideological backwater managed to attract well over a million antiwar protestors to their February rally in London. How was this possible? By backing war against Saddam Hussein, the Labour party leadership has driven a majority of its supporters temporarily into the arms of the old Left wing of its party and, in some cases, even further left. So, before the erstwhile communists get carried away with visions of barricades and guillotines, they should remember that their newfound support is really only support for the antiwar cause. Any residual endorsement of the other nonsense they espouse is an illusion; millions of otherwise sensible people have not converted to revolutionary Marxism overnight. They have, however been sufficiently mobilized by opposition to the war to play the part of the radical if it will catch the attention of their political leaders.

So it is with “The Red Flag” and Old Labour. Members of the red guard who have been waiting for “their” party to come back to them will have to wait a little longer. If the Labour party is to remain electable, it cannot return to a discredited economic system or social policies that frighten an overwhelmingly middle-class electorate. A return to the party’s roots in this post-Cold War era would be followed swiftly by a return to opposition status. Labour MPs know this and the party membership (with a few, dishonorable exceptions) knows it too. But that does not mean they are happy with the leadership that has brought them such success. Far from it. Because of the government’s actions in Iraq, they are hopping mad—so mad that they are willing to hop right into bed with those who would lead the party into irrelevance, if only for a brief fling to catch Blair and Brown’s eye again.

It is in this spirit that “The Red Flag” will be sung at this year’s Labour Party conference. The song’s internationalist flavor (nevermind that the song’s allusions are to the Paris Commune, German unionists and Russian Nihilists) will doubtless appeal to those who marched in support of France, Germany and Moscow’s antiwar position and its opaque invocation of “the hope of peace” and “human right” will resonate with paid-up members of the U.N. booster club. So an old warhorse will be recycled as the glue that binds Old and New Labour together in common opposition to the war. Continental-style multilateralism may have replaced universal socialism as modern delegates’ preferred foreign policy, but that won’t stop them giving “The Red Flag” a lusty welcome back and Tony Blair’s leadership a poke in the eye.

". . . more about oppression than liberation"

This month marks one of the great anniversaries of modern history: 50 years since Krushchev's speech to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party. It hadn't occurred to me how long ago that speech was until I came across this excellent article by Martin Kettle, the son of a former-British Communist Party member leader, in the Guardian.

Perhaps because my political consciousness was still embryonic when the Berlin Wall fell, or perhaps because Marxist ideology still stalked the halls of my English department like an unchallenged bully, the untenability of communist ideology has always seemed a recent revelation to me.

I was certainly not raised on the uncompromising works of Whittaker Chambers, whose Witness cast a baleful eye on his former revolutionary idealism four years before Kruschev's "secret speech." For Chambers and other former-communists, remorse was omnipresent and, in the 1950s and '60s, their new anti-communism had to be lived publicly. More than a prodct of social pressure, this was an internally driven contrition--oblation may not be too strong a word. Having dallied with her enemy, they were America's prodigal sons; bowed and humbled, but eager to demonstrate their loyalty.

The ideologue's loss of faith is often described as a "change of heart," but that is an insipid phrase: it connotes an inconsequential fickleness--a flitting from one paramour to another without a backwards glance. But the disillusionment of the true believer is unforgettable; it is an intellectual wound, whose cicatrized absence persists and provokes. It should not be surprising that after the spell of folly is broken, melancholy lingers, even in the midst of new resolution. In Chambers, this may be what one critic called his sense of "Spenglerian doom." I will defer to those who knew him for such an assessment, but it almost certain that he possesed an itching memory that would not let him leave well enough alone. And for that his country should be grateful.

But this garbled digression aside, Martin Kettle's article shows why there were no excuses, even fifty years ago, for blinding oneself to Soviet repression. Others who lived through this time, like the dean of English historians (and British Communist Party member until 1991) Eric Hobswam, provide useful insights into the subtle and not-so-subtle interplay between Marxist (to say nothing of Marxist-Leninist, Stalinist and Troksyite) and socialist theory and practice at the height of Soviet expansionism into Eastern Europe. Christopher Hill (on whose 17th Century histories I was weaned by my uncle), Hobsbawm, and their fellow travelers were no dummies (I almost typed "were no fools," but I'm not sure I can go that far), so it is easy to forgive their moral and intellectual appeasement. There also may have been better arguments than I am aware of* for not abandoning communism or hard socialism after Kruschev's speech was leaked to the West. But I can't help but think of Muggeridge and Orwell (to name two of the best), who held no illusions about the Soviet Union and were outspoken in their reports of its brutal excesses. And it takes a preternaturally stubborn mind to resist the clear sense of those critical lions.

Some highlights from Kettle's article:

If the great history lesson of the 20th century is that socialism does not work then the watershed event in that tragic enlightenment was the one that took place in Moscow 50 years ago this month - the so-called "secret speech" delivered by Nikita Khrushchev to a closed session of the 20th congress of the Soviet Communist party on February 25 1956, in which he mounted a devastating attack on Joseph Stalin, then not quite three years dead. . . .

Speaking for nearly four hours, he stunned his listeners with a detailed and sweeping account of Stalin's mass arrests, deportations, torture and executions. Though the delegates were sworn to secrecy (and the speech remained unpublished in the USSR until 1988), the details soon leaked out, both in briefings to Soviet and satellite parties and, possibly at Khrushchev's own instigation, to the western media, including via John Rettie of Reuters, later of the Guardian. . . .

The most immediate reason for this, especially outside Russia, was the suppression of the Hungarian democratic revolution in November 1956. From that moment on, communism was irrevocably more about oppression than liberation. After Hungary the excuses would not wash, though many still made them . . .

But the cold-war syllogism lives on today in a new guise. Too many haters of capitalism and the United States still cram everything into the frame of untruth and self-deception that says my enemy's enemy is still my friend because, even if he blows up my family on the tube, murders my colleagues on the bus or threatens to behead me for publishing a drawing, he is still at war with Bush, Blair and Berlusconi. It is 50 years this month since that simplistic view of the world lost whatever moral purchase it may once have had. It is time such thinking was, to choose a sadly appropriate word, purged. Too long, my brothers and my sisters, too long.

* I'm thinking of Hobsbawm's understandably fanatical anti-fascism, though the fervor of fascist-communist antipathy seems almost incomprehensibly naive from the distance of half a century.

Saturday, February 11

In honor of the Olympic hockey tournament about to begin, some favorite clips

One can only subscribe to so many websites, so when I moved to England I made the difficult decision to give up my Broad Street Bully membership. Now that I'm back, I don't think that I will re-up. It is still the best resource for current and classic hockey highlights (including foreign leagues, minors, and juniors with an emphasis on fights and hit), that I am aware of, but there are so many other free resources online today that I can't justify it.

Still, I recommend the site for its (very) limited free content, which, thankfully, changes from time to time. Currently available free clips include the Colorado - Detroit revenge match (a.k.a. "the turtle game") and Domi - Probert II.

On a related note, here are some of my favorite on-line hockey clips:

The Ovechkin goal (I'm an idiot for not going to see him play live yet)

And, for good, measure, the kid can hit . . . hard. (For complete highlights of his first half season, including some serious hits and jaw-dropping moves, check out this video. I think Ovechkin has officially taken up Lemieux's mantle as the player who never seems to miss on a breakaway. I hope the Olympic gold medal doesn't come down to a Canada - Russia shootout.)

McLaren hip check (I can't watch this enough)

Malik shootout goal (the announcers are at least as enjoyable as the goal).

Unbelievable miss

Scott Stevens's top ten hits (these are awe-inspiring, but stomach churning. It is difficult to watch Ron Francis struggling to the bench, or the Lindros and Kariya hits. But its quite a record of the greatest open-ice hitter of my lifetime).

Don Cherry debating Michael Farber on the CBC in the aftermath of the Canada-Russia 1987 brawl.

Probert - Coxe II (even better than the first; if you don't think hockey fans like fights, just listen to the crowd.)

McSorely - Probert '94 (a long but good one)

Rob Ray beating an either very drunk or very stupid Nordiques fan

Boulerice - Downey (a quick k.o., with good replays. I love the way Downey can't get away fast enough after the punch.)

Finally, I was reading the biographies of some of these players and figured out that, in the 1983 draft, the Red Wings picked up Yzerman, Probert, Kocur, Petr Klima, Lane Lambert and Stu Grimson. Yzerman plus three of the best fighters of the last quarter century. Not too shabby.